Strategic HR

Three big HR challenges for 2021

3 Big Challenges For HR 2021

The pandemic. Two words we’re all sick of hearing about, talking about, and dealing with. But we have to face the reality that it has changed the way we work, and one of the biggest impacts has been the sudden switch to remote working.


Although many organisations have started returning to the office, the general consensus is that in 2021, working life will not return to what we once knew – in fact, we may never see that return at all. 


Tech giants such as Microsoft, Twitter, Atlassian and Salesforce have announced their switch to long-term remote work, and this has paved the way for others to follow suit or consider a hybrid model or distributed teams.  


If you’re currently thinking: “So what if home working is here to stay? We’ve survived for nine months…” then I wouldn’t blame you. But it’s likely that all of this is going to pose a massive HR challenge in 2021 – and not in the same way that we’ve seen in 2020.



1.  Hiring and onboarding in a hybrid world of work


Many organisations paused recruitment efforts during the height of the pandemic. And while we saw a surge in recruitment in late 2020 I believe that 2021 will be the year where more organisations attempt to go back to “business as usual” – meaning we may start to see less pandemic-specific vacancies and more traditional vacancies.

But this is going to be quite the challenge for HR, according to Rolf Bax, CHRO for career-prep company This is because he believes that one of the biggest HR challenges we will face in 2021 is the need to come to terms with recruitment and onboarding in a remote-focused environment.


“The traditional interview process, which has already been tested by the pandemic, is about to undergo radical and irreversible change,” he said. “HR professionals and hiring managers are going to have to completely rethink not only how people are interviewed and what kinds of new approaches will need to be considered in order to thoroughly vet and examine candidates, but also how to get new hires up to speed through digital and virtual means.”


Rolf believes HR professionals should be leveraging technology to help with this. In particular, he recommends AR (augmented reality) as well as gamification, to help select the kinds of qualities and skillsets we are looking for in a candidate. 


And this will need to carry on through to the onboarding process, too.


“HR managers are going to have to seriously rethink how they train new people” Rolf warns. “Onboarding packages will need to be much more thorough and comprehensive in order to account for the lack of face-to-face introductions, walk-throughs and hands-on experience new hires used to get.”



2.  Identifying and supporting mental health and wellbeing needs


The pandemic has had a devastating impact on mental wellbeing, with reports from the World Health Organisation indicating an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries. 


“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”


The massive challenge here for HR is going to come from two different angles in 2021:


     - There will probably be more people in your workforce struggling with their mental health

     - You’re going to have a much harder time spotting the signs


Anita Belani, Co-Founder & Partner at Emotionally, says employees across levels are increasingly dependent on HR for support in ways that are beyond the obvious. This means HR will need to be the first responder for of employees.


From an employer’s point of view, Daniel Carter, the founder of Zippy Electrics, expressed his concerns not just with identifying mental health issues, but also with tackling them.


“With everything limited in the virtual world, it has become harder for HR staff to address mental health and wellbeing issues,” he says. “Far from the conventional way of offering aid and counselling, this new setup has posed a huge challenge due to the limited interaction between us, and those who need our help.”


Daniel says we need to rethink the way we support positive mental health and wellbeing and adapt our strategy to work in the new reality we find ourselves in.



3.  Aligning HR costs to support the business’s bottom line


Something else that this pandemic has hit hard is the economy. And this means that for many organisations, survival now depends on their ability to avoid bankruptcy.


Traditionally, HR hasn’t been held directly responsible for costs – beyond having a budget and helping to prepare it – but we may find that 2021 sees HR being landed with more responsibility for profitability. 


Strategic benefits advisor, Jim Edholm says even small changes to the structure of your benefits packages can have a salutary impact on profitability.


“With many companies struggling financially, HR can play a part,” he says. “Group benefits cost money – and in the US, healthcare benefits are second only to salaries themselves as a contributor to the human-related cost stack.”


Jim says that no matter what the size of your company, there’s probably something you can do to make your benefits packages more cost-efficient, to help your company stay profitable while still providing great benefits to help retain employees.


Of course, you should be careful not to blindly start stripping employees of their benefits – this may save money to support your business’s bottom line, but you’ll create yourself a new challenge for 2021: Retaining a talented workforce.



This post was written for The Access Group, a leading provider of HR, digital learning, payroll and financial management software to small to mid-sized organisations. It helps more than 47,000 customers globally across commercial and not-for-profit sectors become more productive and efficient.